Color me embarrassed, especially when the author -- Mr. McDermott, who I don't know -- emailed me back, also feeling embarrassed. We emailed a few times, and during the course of the conversation I told him how I don't have access to a bookstore or library, and he sent me a pdf of his book. A PDF! Just like that!
He told me I didn't have to write a review -- what if I didn't like it? Not to fear. While I've never read a fantasy novel (unless you count the Twilight series, which, for the sake of argument, we will not) I truly enjoyed Last Dragon.
Now, I don't consider myself much of a reviewer, so please bear with me.
Here's the blurb:
An intricate web of stories weave together to tell a tale of revenge, justice, ambition, and power. Zhan has been sent to find her grandfather, a man accused of killing not only Zhan's family, but every man, woman, and child in their village. What she finds is a shell of a man, and a web of deceit that will test the very foundations of a world she thought she understood.
A tale of revenge that grows into something more, Last Dragon is a literary fantasy novel in the tradition of Gene Wolfe and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. J.M. McDermott brings the fantasy genre to new literary heights with a remarkable first novel that will leave critics and readers alike in stunned awe.
Here's what I think:
McDermott's world feels familiar enough that me, a novice fantasy reader, didn't feel lost. Zahn's country, Alameda, seems a lot like Michigan or Canada, albeit more extreme. The traditions and beliefs of Zahn's people revolve around Alastair, their goddess, and Zahn must learn to follow people with differing beliefs if she wants their help.
Adel and Fest, the man and woman who help her find her grandfather, are from two vastly different parts of the world and each open Zahn's eyes to a part of humanity that she never knew existed. Namely, that of the dragon, the dragonslayers, and the paladins -- those who've vowed to give their lives defending the dragon. Throughout the story, Zahn encounters gypsies, fire-breathing shamans, steel-toothed mercenaries, and an army of second-born children whose lives are devoted to defending their country.
The story itself is written as a series of letters from Zahn to Esumi. The sequence of events jumps around a lot, and I read a couple reviews that criticized this structure, but I think McDermott handles the technique wonderfully. I admit I did re-read a couple times, but it didn't take long for me to fall into the rhythm of his storytelling. The details unfold in such a way that even when he jumps ahead, you know the nugget that explains what's going on is just ahead, waiting for you to uncover it.
As a writer, I can't imagine how intricate the outline must have been for this novel. World-building is something I've never spent much time considering, but McDermott clearly knows what he's doing.
I'm sorry if this review is all over the place, but these were the things that most struck me. If you've never read fantasy, this is a good book to test the waters with, and if you're already a fan, go out and add this to your collection!
And in an effort to prevent future dilemmas like mine, an ebook will be available next week here.